The Darkest Hour

Dipak Misra's shadow over the Supreme Court

01 July 2018
Dipak Misra was sworn in as the Chief Justice of India in August 2017. Many of those in attendance— including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the law minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, and the outgoing CJI, JS Khehar—had received and failed to act on complaints about Misra’s indictment for land fraud.
ARUN SHARMA/HINDUSTAN TIMES/GETTY IMAGES

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IT WAS COMMON for Jayanta Kumar Das to find bundles of documents on the doorstep of his house in Puri, Odisha. Having spent two decades in the Indian Air Force, Das retired as a sergeant, in 2001, aged 39. He started brokering land deals, which exposed him to a lot of corruption. When the Right to Information Act was passed, in 2005, Das felt enabled. At the turn of the decade, he was scratching away at what came to be called the Odisha chit-fund scam. His name began appearing in the press as the scandal surfaced. “So people know me,” Das told me recently. “And because they know that I work honestly, they send me information.” Sometimes his dog chewed documents up before he could open the door to find them.

One bulk of papers arrived by post on 11 August 2016, from the city of Cuttack. These contained the interim report in an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation, carried out on orders of the Orissa High Court, which named public servants who had been indicted for acquiring government land by fraudulent means.

On page 30, under the specifics of lease case number 588/79, Das spotted the name “Deepak Mishra.” He managed to locate a three-decade-old order by the additional district magistrate of Cuttack in State vs Sri Deepak Mishra—lease revision case number 238 of the year 1984. With the stated intention of raising a fodder farm, the defendant had applied to procure about three acres of government land in Cuttack, under a scheme designed to uplift the economically disadvantaged. To prove his eligibility, he swore, in an affidavit, that he came from a Brahmin family that owned no land. This was a lie, and the defendant’s lease on the land was cancelled. The additional district magistrate was “satisfied that the lessee had obtained lease by misrepresentation and fraud.”

The CBI inquiry found that the tehsildar in Cuttack had only corrected the records for the land in January 2012. This meant that for 26 years after the additional district magistrate’s order, the defendant had continued to hold the land in question. Much had changed for the defendant in those 26 years. In 1984, Deepak Mishra was a lawyer practising in the Orissa High Court. By 2012, having been appointed a judge, seen his elevation to the Orissa High Court and served as the chief justice of the Patna and Delhi High Courts—and having changed the spelling of his name to Dipak Misra along the way—he was a justice of the Supreme Court.

Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan. 

Keywords: land Madhya Pradesh Supreme Court Odisha Impeachment Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra BH Loya Jasti Chelameswar Ranjan Gogoi Kalikho Pul
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